Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

NFL 2011: Who Will Rise?

August 1, 2011

Let’s get this out of the way—I don’t like the Houston Texans.

To me, they are saccharine, the master-planned suburban community of the NFL. Sure, it looks nice, has that glean to it, all the amenities you could ask for, and yet, you’ve completely forgotten it the moment you drive away. It’s all there, and yet, something’s missing.

In the Texans’ case, that certain something is personality.

From bland superstars like Andre Johnson and Arian Foster to their cookie-cutter stadium to the fact that Texans gameday feels exactly as you think it would (right down to the crowd chanting predictabilities in unison), there are no surprises with the Texans, no “wow” factor. That includes the annual inevitability that is the Texans’ disappointing record.

That changes this year. In 2011, talent finally prevails, and the Texans have plenty of it. Mark it down—the Houston Texans, after years of not quite getting there, are finally going to reach the postseason.

History dictates as much. Think of the Cincinnati Bengals of two years ago, the Chicago Bears of last year, the near-Super Bowl champion Arizona Cardinals of 2008. Every year, someone rises from a gang of also-rans to reach the postseason. This year, in the post-lockout world where stability will be of extra importance, the Texans—with vets like Matt Schaub, Johnson, DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams—are primed for a playoff berth.

Let’s dissect how this conclusion was made.

For starters, go ahead and eliminate all of the last year’s playoff teams, as you can’t exactly rise from the ashes when the house was never on fire. That eliminates the New York Jets, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New England, New Orleans, Seattle, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta.

Secondly, let’s go ahead and remove teams that underwhelmed in 2010, but are expected to rebound and contend for a playoff spot in 2011. That takes care of Arizona, Dallas, San Diego and the New York Giants.

Next, let’s discard all the teams that are in rebuidling mode in 2011, throwing out young, unproven quarterbacks or washed-up vets (to play in front of those unproven youngsters) in the hopes of playing playoff spoiler to division rivals while potentially building for a more prosperous future. Include Carolina, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Denver,  Cleveland, Minnesota and Tennessee on that list.

Moving on, throw out the teams who came out of nowhere last year to contend, and while falling short of the playoffs, are primed for numerous playoff runs. These teams are no longer unknowns. That’d be Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

From there, let’s just go ahead and toss the franchise train wrecks out, since these organizations—as currently constructed—will never be anything beyond mediocre. We’re looking at you, Oakland and Washington.

That leaves five teams vying for status of “uprisers,” including the aforementioned Texans. Here is why the other four won’t get there in 2011.

Detroit: Because the Lions, like the Texans too many times before, are this year’s hot playoff pick. The problem is this, Matthew Stafford can’t stay healthy, and Detroit is housed in a division with Chicago and the defending Super Bowl champs. Maybe in 2012, but not now.

Jacksonville/Miami: I’m lumping these two together, as they’re pretty much the same team. Both based in Florida, both average and forgettable in every way, not awful, but not exactly awe-inspiring either. Wouldn’t be surprised if both finished 8-8; it would only be fitting for both to land right in the middle of the NFL pack.

San Francisco: Alex Smith. Need I say more?

That leaves Houston, who thanks to stable vets, an upgraded defense (both on the field and in the coaching box), and a weak division (even Indy isn’t a sure thing anymore), will finally reach the playoffs in 2011. 10-6. See you in the postseason Houston. Yes, I’m just as surprised as you.